What do you do when you’re the last network putting on the last event of the marathon upfront week? USA got it exactly right: serve drinks both before and after the presentation.
The crowd was big -- at least a thousand strong at the late Thursday afternoon New York event -- and happy. The pre-presentation schmooze fest was so lively that it took an extra half-hour to get everyone seated before the show could begin.
Last year, USA did a so-called “suitless” upfront -- devoid of the usual parade of executives serving as cheerleaders touting the past and presumably future accomplishments of the network. Instead, it let the talent do the talking, entertaining and introductions of the new shows.
This year’s format was similar. It was a near suitless presentation. The one exception was Linda Yaccarino, president of advertising sales at NBC Universal. She actually took exception when “Suits” star Gabriel Macht labeled her a suit before handing off to her to say a few words about this year’s event. “I’m a ‘skirt’,’’ she corrected.
While USA has been the top-rated cable network for seven straight years, “we’re not standing still,” Yaccarino insisted. “We’re looking for new ways to engage audiences,” she added -- as well as new ways to enable advertisers connect with those audiences.
A major development this year is the network’s focus on building comedy shows. Anchoring that effort is the acquisition of the syndication rights to the ABC hit sitcom “Modern Family,” which begins airing this fall. And USA has picked up its first two original comedies,” Sirens” and “Playing House,” which the network intends to create a multi-show comedy franchise with. "Sirens" features a quirky take on emergency medical technicians in Chicago, while "Playing House" is billed as a female buddy comedy.
The network is still very dedicated to dramas, however -- and has picked up nearly a dozen new ones including “Horizon,” a World War II mystery thriller. Also unveiled was “The Arrangement,” set in Miami, about a couple who married for political expediency. There’s also “The Edge,” a thriller set in the venture capital world, a medical drama, “Complications,” and the crime drama “Bank.”
“Blanco County” is a drama about a “worldly pro baseball player, and “Don’t Turn Around” is a mystery set on remote island. “Hungry” is about the opening of a hot New York City restaurant and “Shadow Counsel” is about a New York criminal lawyer recruited by the FBI for help on an investigation.
The upfront presentation featured a segment with members of the “Modern Family” cast (many of whom were in attendance), using the more adult language that’s acceptable on cable but not in the land of broadcast TV, where audiences are accustomed to seeing the show. Seeing Eric Stonestreet (Cameron Tucker on the show) and other cast members drop the F-Bomb and other choice phrases in clips that will never see the light of day on broadcast (or basic cable for that matter) drew big laughs from the advertiser community attending the event.
But perhaps the biggest applause was saved for the cast of “Psych,” which performed a Broadway-type song-and-dance number that brought the house down.
The network also announced that it was doing a new anti-bullying and anti-hate campaign with the NFL. The campaign will feature NFL players telling stories of how they overcame bullying and prejudice when they were young and how they are currently helping young people overcome similar experiences.